How I Hire: My Guiding Principles – Angela Ahrendts

April 13, 2016

How I Hire: My Guiding Principles


Experience and age are great gifts when it comes to effectively and successfully hiring and retaining great talent. Below are my guiding principles of hiring gleaned from 34 years of learnings — the four areas I focus candidates on and the questions I typically use as my filter in the first hour we have together.

ME vs. WE
I want to gain insight into how they see themselves in the world.

  • How big is their ego and what role does it play in their everyday life?
  • Do they focus their energy on being an individual contributor, or on connecting and enabling a wider group?
  • Do they care more about their own success or about the greater good of the whole?

I ask simple questions about their family, friends, peers, personal interests, sports, spirituality, and community to glean a better understanding of their true motivation and leadership attributes. This is usually the easy part, because people love to talk about themselves.

I often can’t help myself at this part of the interview and am known to slide in a favorite quote or two that sum up my leadership philosophies. I love to see how they respond to these:

A great coach used to say, “When ordinary people connect, extraordinary things can happen.”

One of my favorite quotes is from management expert Gary Hamel, who was once asked, “How will you know if you are a great leader?” He replied, “Turn around and see if anyone is following you.”

IQ vs. EQ
Now that they are comfortable and their guard is down, I want to understand how they naturally navigate in the world.

  • Do they typically think or feel first?
  • Do they instinctively use their head or their heart?

I ask a few business questions about how they handle challenging situations and optimize opportunities. I usually ask what their team and peers would say about them to gain deeper perspective on how balanced they are intellectually and emotionally.

By the time they have reached my office, I think it is pretty safe to say they are incredibly smart in their field. I want to make sure they are culturally compatible. Are they empathetic, compassionate, caring and giving of their mind and heart?

My most overused quote, which is now often played back to me, is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I want to sense if they truly care about the impact they make on people.

I then like to go a little deeper to discover what lens they look at the world through.

  • Do they lean into analysis or their instincts? Do they get into details, or carry on a more conceptual conversation?
  • Do they make linear decisions, are they a creative thinker, or do they use their whole mind?

I then go back to asking more personal questions, as I find I can better assess their left brain-right brain balance by understanding what they studied, what they do in their spare time.

  • What do they read, watch, listen to?
  • Do they light up when talking about the arts, their kids?

A company’s success is predicated on you putting the right people in the right place at the right time. You know what you need, and you need to find out who they truly are so both can thrive over the long term.

Lastly, I love to learn what guides them in the world, or frames their reference points.

  • How much do they look to the past for trends, and how aware are they of the underlying influences impacting their business today?
  • Do they have an opinion on the future and how their organization and strategies will need to evolve to keep pace? Are they adverse to or do they thrive on change?

This is how I wrap up the hour, and before they leave I feel it is important to let them know how I feel.

If I loved them, I tell them so and say I look forward to continuing the conversation. If they are not right for the position, I think it is best to be honest while we are together so they don’t get their hopes up. I always treat them as I want to be treated, and make sure they leave feeling positive even though they are not right for the current position. It is important we both sleep at night and that they leave with respect for themselves and the company.

Good luck, and remember: Building a brilliant team is your job. Nothing you do is more important or adds more value.


By Angela Ahrendts, Senior Vice President of Apple Retail

Angela Ahrendts